Tourism brings in big dollars

Published 10:10 pm Thursday, September 18, 2014

Moderate growth in Suffolk tourism in the last year spells good news for the city’s economy, its tourism development manager says.

“We’re always happy to see it go in a positive direction,” Theresa Earles said. “Moderate growth is positive growth, and it’s something we can actually sustain. That gives me a lot of confidence in our tourism product.”

Tourism-related employment in Suffolk remained steady from 2012 to 2013, while the payroll for those positions went up 2.1 percent. Tourism-related local tax receipts — a category that includes meals, admissions and lodging taxes as well as property taxes on tourism-related spots like hotels — were up 1.2 percent.

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Tourism-related state taxes collected locally — including portions of the sales and gas taxes according to a state formula — went up 2.2 percent.

The numbers come from the U.S. Travel Association and are based on domestic visitor spending on trips taken 50 or more miles away from home.

Earles said Virginia’s hospitality employees and natural, historic and cultural resources combine to make it a tourism hotspot. The tourism numbers for every locality in the state grew this year.

“I think in Virginia, we have a wonderful hospitality pool to draw from as far as hotels and attractions, and everything from beaches to mountains,” Earles said. “Suffolk fits in a niche market, whether it’s history or art or outdoor recreation. We happen to be in a great location, and that contributes to our success.”

Earles’ department puts on many events throughout the year and also serves conferences, weddings, reunions, meetings and other special events that come to Suffolk, offering things like official welcomes, discounted tours and other services.

“We really try to go above and beyond and make folks feel as if they’re truly our world at the time,” Earles said.

Her department does it all on a budget that was $543,451 for fiscal year 2014, giving the city a $3.58 return in local tax receipts for every dollar it spends.

The entire tourism industry in Suffolk chips in, she noted.

“Our restaurants, our retailers, our hoteliers and our attractions really go above and beyond,” she said.

Tourism-related spending as a whole in Suffolk last year totaled a whopping $65 million.

Across the state, tourism generated $21.5 billion in spending, supported 213,000 jobs and provided $842 million in state taxes and $581 million in local taxes.

“Tourism is an important industry that will continue to fuel the new Virginia economy,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a press release. “Virginia continues to offer a dynamic, rich experience for visitors, which helps to make the Commonwealth a better place to live, work and raise a family. Virginia’s tourism economy is an enormous asset for this Commonwealth, and continuing to grow it is one of my top priorities.”